World of Stars and Illusions
18. 6. – 20. 10. 2002
Moravská galerie v Brně, Uměleckoprůmyslové muzeum, Husova 14


Czech Film Posters, Since the Beginnings Up to the First Years of World War II
In the mid 1890s, there appeared a new kind of entertainment in Paris and New York: the motion picture – film. And similarly to other pastimes, it had also found an effective means of self-promotion – the poster. In France, the country with the most developed poster culture, some ten posters have survived from the first five years of film (i.e. up to the year 1900) and perhaps a hundred more (individualised ones, i.e. produced for concrete films) from the years up to World War I. In the Czech lands, where the film ”took hold” (after a very short elementary episode) no sooner than just before World War I and afterwards, there are, unlike France, large picture posters only from the period after WW I. Their predecessors were purely typographic posters, supplemented with small pictures as early as before WW I – these, however, were not from any concrete films, but rather picture ”logos” of particular cinemas. These blank show – cards in standardised format were complemented, for each show, with film titles (there were always several films, of various kinds, in each show). Simultaneously with the first large picture posters for particular films, printed by lithography (beginning with the Idyll of Old Prague by Wenig), there appear huge, typographic ”canvases”, complemented with large ornaments and sometimes even pictures, cut in lino. Only the lithographic ones, which will be discussed here, were of interest for collectors. Their authors were, besides Wenig, today little known artists Hnátek, Čutta (the most prolific poster designer of the silent movie era), Gemka, Žnydra, Ottmar, as well as the couple Fiala and Frič, who devoted themselves to film for life (one as architect and designer, the other later especially as film director), Weiss and others. They all designed posters for Czech films as well as for foreign ones, that outnumbered by far those produced in this country. The situation was further complicated by the fact that many foreign films came with their own posters, more ”sensational” than the local ones. That resulted in the designers more or less adopting this trend (undoubtedly under the pressure of distributors) – the only ”benefit” being that their posters had to suffer dozens of slanderous and derisive remarks in newspapers and journals. It should be admitted that these were mostly utterly unfair – the great majority of the films from that period (and it equally applies to the 1930s) were not considered as Art (on the contrary, they were mainly entertainment!) – and to promote, or better to say to SELL entertainment (and, in the case of film, truly MASS one) via Art was, and still is, nonsense.
Silent movie posters consist of a single ”picture” – drawing or painting, with a minimum amount of textual information. The title, sometimes the company name, here and there the director’s or the great actors’ names, and nothing more. Posters of the talking pictures era (to simplify: the 1930s) mostly lack the main ”picture” of one scene over the whole sheet; their characteristic feature is rather a jigsaw (sometimes seemingly restless) of several scenes, portraits, etc., complemented with large areas of ”plain” colours, and no painted background. Often the centre consists of a detail (seemingly pushed into the foreground) of the main heroes’ heads or half-figures (almost regularly a man and a woman); behind them, one can see one or more smaller scenes from the film. A novelty is the almost regular billing of the director’s name, while the largest type belongs to the ”stars” – actors in the title roles; sometimes their names – especially in foreign films – ”shout down” even the film title. It is quite obvious that models for most of the posters of that time are film stills, often traced in an almost hyperrealistic way (the American inspiration is evident, especially in western film posters), with large colour areas, often with mere hints of ”shades” – the traditional painting concept disappears, similarly to publicity for various products of the time. The filmmaker’s name and distributor company (for foreign films) is now almost a rule. The early 1930s are marked by a short period of avant-garde attempts for collage made by Zelenka and Pelc; while the already mentioned hyperrealism of e.g. Bruno, Burjanek, Kožíšek, Přibyl takes hold and is demanded; the same applies to the restrained modern style of designers – and their studios – like Rotter, Vodička, Jonaš, Hofbauer-Pokorný.
The end of the silent movie brings to an end also the era of classical lithography; since the outset of the talking picture at the turn of the 1920s–1930s there comes the time of posters printed by cheap offset, combining photographs (better, and more precisely, traced photographs) with painting and drawing and large areas of plain colours.
And finally, once more: The posters were promoting the films that were on show – they could not be any better (and definitely were not any worse, either) than the films themselves. Let us try to look at them without any prejudice, let us put aside aesthetic categories and a priori art critical views, in short: let us enjoy them just as they are!

Petr Štembera


The Czech Film Posters, 1945 to the Present
This exhibition of landmark film posters, with real “classics” among them, will remind many of cult films in both Czech and world cinematography, as well as of the 1960’s, the golden era of the Czech film poster.
At that time, Czech film poster was not simply a conduit for information; through a distinctive mode of artistic expression, it also represented a major cultural and social phenomenon. After a transition period
in the second half of the 1940’s, marked by last echoes of modernism in the posters of Josef Burjank and Albert Jonaš, and after a decade of socialist realism from which even film art and its promotion was not exempt, new life was breathed into the artistic development of the Czech film poster with the exhibitions
of Polish posters that took place in Prague and at the Karlovy Vary film festivals in the late 1950’s. Polish artists never quite took to the doctrine of socialist realism in poster design. They preserved monumental forms and were quick to respond to trends resonating in world art. An essential prerequisite for free artistic expression in film posters was the establishment of the independent section of applied graphic art within SČVU (the Union of Czech Visual Artists), which brought about a relaxation in union activities, until then bound by strict centralism. The inclusion of young artists on ”acceptance boards” within the Central Film Distribution Centre (ÚPF) and the extension of the regular promotion department teams with artists from outside (graphic artists, painters, sculptors, stage designers and film directors) facilitated the advance of a creative approach, in parallel with developments in free art. The birth of the Czech film poster phenomenon can be credited to Karel Vaca, Karel Teissig, Richard Fremund, Vladimír Tesař, Dobroslav Foll, Jiří Balcar, Jaroslav Fišer, Zdeněk Ziegler, Milan Grygar, Bedřich Dlouhý, Čeněk Pražák, Zdeněk Palcr, Jiří Hilmar, Wolfgang Schlosser, Josef Flejšar, Jaroslav Sůra, Libor Fára, Jan Kubíček, Olga Karlíková and others, later joined by Josef Vyleťal, Olga Vyleťalová (Poláčková), Jiří Rathouský, Alexej Jaroš, Karel Machálek,
Eva Švankmajerová, Petr Poš, Jiří Šalamoun, Vratislav Hlavatý, Zdeněk Vlach and Antonín Sládek, to name just a few. At film festival exhibitions, in galleries and cinema premises, the Czech film poster soon won the favour of the public for its creative imagination, poetic and lyrical atmosphere, the use of collage, photo-montage, retouching, striking graphic design, humour and grotesque hyperbole.
Mass reproductions of works of art flooded the poster spaces in towns and cities. Furthermore, these posters substituted for artwork in interiors. In the course of the 1960’s, designers of film posters found inspiration in the informel, pop art, op art and psychedelic art; later in the revival of Art Nouveau stylisation and surrealism as well. They aimed to capture the viewer’s attention through purely visual means. To achieve this, artists frequently employed procedures derived from art films, such as enlarged close-up, merging of symbolic and metaphoric visual levels and repeated detail. To establish communication, artists would often use the motif of the eye and the pointing hand borrowed from old advertisements. They provoked free association of films with everyday reality using collages made up of fragments of real-life environments and the film environment. Before long, film posters by Czech designers started to attract collectors, particularly from abroad, who were well aware of their value in comparison with the Western commercialisation of film poster production.
Many Czech poster artists were awarded prizes at poster exhibitions held at international film festivals in Cannes and Hollywood (Olga Vyleťalová, Karel Vaca, Zdeněk Ziegler and others) and their works appeared in prestigious foreign journals, such as Graphis, Idea and Novum Gebrauchsgraphik. In
the early 1960’s, posters by Karel Tessig (for the French film ”Stockbrokers”) and Jiří Balcar (”Moby Dick”) won the Toulouse-Lautrec Prize in Paris. Karel Tessig commented: “With the ÚPF editors and artists, we played midwife to the baby, despite some initial mistrust, and with the kind of work ethic that helped us make a living. The work was later to stimulate exciting, ambitious competition and creative attempts to expand the potential of poster morphology with experience from painting and drawing; it became a challenge. What’s more, we came to enjoy it, as our activities put a certain sense into the absurdity of the times. All of a sudden, poster spaces featured visual creations that were in considerable and challenging contradiction to the timid boredom of socialist realism that infested official exhibition halls.”
However, not all posters entered distribution, and some were pasted over soon after their appearance. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Czech film poster maintained its high visual standards. The decline of mass production for Czech film posters started with the demise of the Central Film Distribution Centre in the early 1990’s. The commercial concerns of American film producers dictate that new films be distributed with their own posters, supplied with Czech text. Traditional cheap poster spaces in town and city centres have ceased to exist, and the space for the contemporary Czech film poster is mostly defined by cinema and multiplex area; billboard promotion is rare. In terms of artistic personalities, the Czech film poster of the present is predominantly associated with Aleš Najbrt and his graphic studio. Najbrt designed the majority of posters for the Czech films of the 1990’s.

Marta Sylvestrová


In co-operation with the Museum of Decorative Arts Prague, the National Czech Archives Prague and Exlibris Prague. With the support of the Czech Art Foundation, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, NACHIS Ltd. Prague and Swann Galleries, New York